Hydrogen Goes Public in Southern California

Shell hydrogen station in Los AngelesOn April 20, 2004, after 40 years of fighting it was all smiles between auto executives from Detroit and the regulators of California’s health and emissions. That day a new governor signed the historic California Hydrogen Highways Executive Order. California would be energy independent, instead of consuming more oil than all nations except the USA and China. You read that right. 38 million Californians uses more oil each year than all of Japan, all of Germany, and more than over one billion people in India.

Terry Tamminen, then Secretary California Environmental Protection Agency, now an energy and environmental consultant to governments and author of Lives per Gallon, walked to the podium and delivered a powerful address:

“More than six generations of Californians have relied upon petroleum to power everything from our industries to trips in the family car. But the basic motor vehicle has changed little in over a century, while air pollution sends one in seven children in this region to school every day carrying asthma inhalers. The health of our businesses is also threatened by rapidly rising fuel prices – – with no end in sight.

We cannot build a 21st Century economy on 19th century technology. Four decades ago, President Kennedy’s bold leadership sent Americans to the moon using hydrogen fuel and fuel cells. Today we can certainly harness that same technology to take us to work, to school, and on a family vacation.”

Terry Tamminen now drives a Honda FCX hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. The car is an electric vehicle that uses an electric motor, not an engine, and captures braking energy into advanced batteries. The car also has a fuel cell which takes hydrogen from the onboard storage tank and makes continuous electricity. From his home in Santa Monica, Terry can drive almost 200 miles then pull into a hydrogen station and refuel. Terry leases the car from Honda for $500 per month. The lease includes all maintenance and collision insurance. In the future, he may lease Honda’s latest fuel cell vehicle, the FCX Clarity for $600 per month, and get a range of almost 300 miles.

Unlike most places in the United States, Terry can find over ten hydrogen stations in the nearby Los Angeles area for a fill-up. Conveniently nearby is a new Shell gas station that also includes a hydrogen pump. The hydrogen is made from H2O at the station. Yes, water is split into hydrogen and oxygen. Customers like Terry can fuel their hydrogen vehicles in five minutes then drive off, an advantage over battery electric vehicles that are typically charged overnight.

With his zero-emission vehicle, Terry gets convenience while staying true to his environmental values.

This Thursday, June 26, Shell opened a new public hydrogen fueling station, conveniently located near two of the world’s busiest freeways – the 405 and the 10. The station looks like any other Shell Station.

You can also stop and fill-up with gasoline, buy snacks, use the restroom, even inflate your tires for better mileage. “California is leading the way with clean fuels,” said Graeme Sweeney, Executive Vice President for Shell Future Fuels and CO2 at the official opening of the station.

The electrolyzer will make enough hydrogen for about seven cars per day with 40kg of storage. Hydrogenics provided the integrated hydrogen fueling station, including electrolyzer, compressor, storage, and dispensing systems. In order to meet the demanding space requirements of the fueling station, Hydrogenics implemented a canopy system where all the components are mounted on the roof of the station canopy, minimizing the footprint of the hydrogen station.The electrolyzer is powered with Green Energy from the LA Department of Water and Power. By paying an extra 3 cents per kilowatt hour, Shell uses renewable energy generated by wind, solar, bioenergy, hydro and geothermal.

The station’s added capacity will be welcome by California’s fleet users of over 100 hydrogen vehicles who need refills on some of their trips. These fleet users include the nearby City of Los Angeles, City of Santa Monica, and UCLA. Most of California’s 24 hydrogen stations serve only their own fleets; some offer courtesy fills to other fleets. Shell competitor, BP, also offers a public hydrogen station at LA Airport, but this is not a full service station with gasoline filling.

The new Shell hydrogen station is also near the rich and famous who are starting to drive hydrogen vehicles. The station is easily accessed from Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Brentwood, and Santa Monica. Early customers of the new Honda FCX Clarity include actress Jamie Lee Curtis and filmmaker husband Christopher Guest, actress Laura Harris, and film producer Ron Yerxa.

Over the next three years, Honda will be leasing 200 FCX Clarity four-door sedans. In California, a three-year lease will run $600 a month, which includes maintenance and collision coverage. Although Shell will be selling hydrogen for about double the gasoline equivalent, the new Honda is speced at 68 miles per gallon equivalent (your mileage may vary), so drivers replacing gasoline vehicles that get less than 34 miles per gallon are likely to be money ahead in fuel costs.

The new FCX Clarity demonstrates the continuous improvement that Honda has made since its early fuel cell vehicles and electric vehicles with limited range: an advanced new four door, four-passenger sedan design, a greater than 30 percent increase in driving range to 280 miles, a 20+ percent increase in fuel economy, and a 40 percent smaller and 50 percent lighter new lithium-ion battery pack. Its fuel efficiency is three times that of a modern gasoline-powered automobile, such as the Accord.

American Honda has been recognized four consecutive times as America’s “greenest automaker” by the Union of Concerned Scientists, most recently in 2007, and has maintained the highest automobile fleet-average fuel efficiency (lowest fleet-average CO2 emissions) of any U.S. automaker over the past -years. In addition to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, Honda is expanding its offerings of hybrid vehicles. My mother, who has carefully watched every dollar since her childhood in the Great Depression, loves the fuel economy of her Honda Civic Hybrid. The company is rumored to be planning a new hybrid for next year, priced well under $20,000 to reach a broader market.

Although Honda can deliver 280 mile range with hydrogen at the lower pressure 5,000 psi (35 mPa) delivered at this new hydrogen station, and at most stations, most other auto makers need double the pressure of 10,000 psi (70 mPa) to get adequate range.

General Motors is putting 100 of its larger crossover SUV Hydrogen Equinox on the road with fleets and individuals. For example, in Burbank the Walt Disney Company is using ten of the GM Equinoxes in a 30 month trial. They fill at a private 10,000 psi (70 mPa) station in Burbank to achieve a 160 mile range. Anyone filling an Equinox at the new Shell station is likely to only get an 80 mile range at the lower pressure. Burbank and Irvine have the only 10,000 psi (70 mPa) stations in California. GM’s Project Driveway

GM is placing a bigger bet on its Chevy Volt, the sleek 4-door sedan plug-in hybrid targeted to start selling in 2010. The vehicle will travel 40 miles on an electric charge, then use a small gasoline engine to extend its range. GM will eventually offer a family of vehicles using the Volt’s E-Flex architecture. One E-Flex concept car that GM has demonstrated, uses a fuel cell not a gasoline engine to give extended range. Plug-in hydrogen vehicles may be in GM’s future.

Both Honda and GM will face competition from Daimler which has over 100 hydrogen vehicles in use by customers. 60 are Mercedes F-Cell passenger vehicles, 3 are Sprinter delivery vans used by UPS and others, and close to 40 buses that transport thousands globally on a daily basis.

By using green energy to power the electrolysis, Shell provides a zero emission source-to-wheels solution. This overcomes the problem at half of California’s hydrogen stations where hydrogen is remotely reformed from natural gas, then truck transported, providing modest lifecycle GHG benefits when compared with the most fuel efficient gasoline hybrids. Newer stations, however, use approaches that dramatically reduce emissions such as pipelining waste hydrogen, onsite reformation, and electrolysis using renewable energy.

Over the next twenty years, hydrogen will neither be the sole solution to energy security and global warming, nor will it fail. There will not be a Hydrogen Economy. Nor, as some critics claim will there never be hydrogen vehicles.

Most likely, hydrogen will follow the success of natural gas vehicles. There are about five million natural gas vehicles in operation globally. Over 90% of the natural gas used in the USA is from North America. Transportation use of natural gas has doubled in only five years. Natural gas vehicles are popular in fleets that carry lots of people: buses, shuttles, and taxis. Los Angeles Metro uses 2,400 natural gas buses to transport millions. Most of the City of Santa Monica’s 595 vehicles run on natural gas, be they buses, trash trucks, or heavy vehicles.

Natural gas is primarily hydrogen. The molecule is four hydrogen atoms and one carbon. Steam reformation makes hydrogen from CH4 and H2O. Hydrogen is used in fuel cell electric vehicles with far better fuel economy than the natural gas engine vehicles that they replace. For example, at Sunline Transit, their hydrogen fuel cell bus is achieving 2.5 times the fuel economy of a similar CNG bus on the same route. Specifically 7.37GGE to the CNG vehicle’s 2.95GGE. Sunline has a new fuel cell bus on order with even great expected gains. NREL Report

Some major auto makers and energy providers calculate that it will only take about 40 public hydrogen stations and reasonably priced vehicles to the hydrogen dilemma of which comes first, vehicles or stations. By targeted the area from Burbank to Irvine, in Southern California, both are happening.

Public education will also be critical for hydrogen to be embraced by the public. In addition to the new hydrogen pump at the Santa Monica Boulevard Station, Shell has converted an unused service bay into a visitor center to help educate drivers about the use of hydrogen and fuel cell vehicles.

From London to Los Angeles, from Shanghai to Santa Monica, cities are planning for a zero-emission future. To encourage the transition, cities like London have imposed pricey congestion fees, but exempted zero-emission vehicles such as battery-electric and hydrogen fuel cell. In response, auto makers have accelerated their electric vehicle development and providers like Shell are planning on hydrogen stations for these cities.

Southern California will have cleaner air and less gasoline usage for several reasons including: electric rail, more fuel efficient vehicles, plug-in hybrids and electric cars. In an upcoming article, I will also document the growing success of public transportation in Southern California. The advances being made by major providers such as Honda, GM, and Shell are part of the solution.

Copyright © 2008. John Addison. Portions of this article may be included in John Addison’s upcoming book. Permission to reproduce if this copyright notice is included.

HMC, GM, RDSA, DAI, BP

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About Author: John Addison

Founder of the Clean Fleet Report, author of Save Gas, Save the Planet. John writes about electric cars, renewable energy, and sustainability. (c) Copyright John Addison. Permission to repost up to a 200 word summary if a link is included to the original article at Clean Fleet Report.